Sizing up downtown retail

  • Updated: January 13, 2008 - 9:12 PM

SIZING UP DOWNTOWN RETAIL

The Minneapolis Downtown Council hired Economics Research Associates of Washington, D.C., last year to devise a plan to rescue the city's sagging retail core. Here are highlights of the report, based on interviews and presentations to the business community. The report has not been made publicly available.

WHAT ARE DOWNTOWN'S STRENGTHS?

• 160,000 workers, 32,000 residents.

• A growing number of theaters, hotels, bars and restaurants along Hennepin Avenue; a world-class library.

• National retailers with various price points, from Target to Saks Off 5th to Macy's to Neiman Marcus; growing number of high-end boutiques.

• Historic buildings and a walkable downtown environment.

WHAT ARE ITS CHALLENGES?

• Skyways create a "schizophrenic" environment, diluting traffic from the street and confusing potential retailers.

• Nicollet Mall traffic dies after 5 p.m.

• Low density of residents in the downtown core.

• Lack of a true downtown magnet; retail follows people.

• Not enough high-fashion destination shops.

WHAT ARE SOLUTIONS?

• Orient toward the street: Give street-level vacancies priority for future retailers; turn internally focused malls, such as Gaviidae and City Center, "inside out" to draw in street traffic.

• Use zoning laws to make skyways "secondary streets" for workers and residents, with focus on service-driven shops such as quick-serve restaurants, shoe repairs, florists and dry cleaners.

• Open Nicollet Mall to cars. Though city leaders oppose this idea, the Downtown Council report goes with the idea that restricting the retail corridor to buses takes shoppers out of town, makes the streets dark after hours and deprives storefronts of energy from moving cars.

• Connect Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Mall with street improvements and landscaping so people can easily and safely move between the arts and culture spine of Hennepin and the retail corridor along Nicollet.

• Attract stores that have universal appeal to office workers, residents and visitors to the city but that can't be found at suburban malls.

JACKIE CROSBY

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